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Thursday, March 17, 2011
Astros leaning heavily on starters

By Justin Ray

The Houston Astros had one of the worst offenses in baseball last season, scoring just 3.8 runs per game en route to a fourth place finish in the NL Central. So just imagine how bad they would have been without a pitching staff that ranked sixth in the National League in ERA and opponent batting average after the All-Star Break.

The Astros’ lack of offense is expected to leave them out of contention this year, but their pitching staff should at least keep them in games.

Houston lost 27 games last season where its starting pitcher went six or more innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs, the most of any team in baseball.

Some notes on the Astros’ rotation entering the 2011 season:

Brett Myers: Myers was incredibly durable last season going at least six full innings in all but his final start, when he fell one out shy of hitting that mark. The 32 straight starts of six or more innings pitched to begin a season were the most since Curt Schilling did so in all 35 of his starts in 2002. Myers’ 223 2/3 innings pitched were a career high, and fifth-most in the National League. He had a 15-start stretch from July 4 to mid-September where he went 8-1 with a 1.89 ERA and 4.3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Wandy Rodriguez: Last year Rodriguez regressed some from the ascent he made the previous 3 seasons. Wandy had improved by at least half-a-run in ERA for three straight years: from 5.64 in 2006, to 4.58 in 2007, to 3.54 in 2008, to a career-best 3.02 in 2009. Wear-and-tear on his left arm may be a concern for Houston this season. Rodriguez has pitched at least 195 innings each of the past two seasons, and has missed time this spring with arm trouble. According to Inside Edge, Rodriguez threw 1,165 curveballs last season, by far the most in all of baseball.

Bud Norris: One of the most remarkable statistics in Norris’ young career is how well he’s done against the St. Louis Cardinals. Norris is 5-1 with a 2.27 ERA in his career against the Redbirds, and 10-12 with a 5.41 ERA against everybody else. Norris’ inconsistency isn’t because of lack of stuff: he was sixth in the NL in strikeouts per 9 innings (9.25) among pitchers with at least 100 IP last season.

J.A. Happ: In eight of Happ’s 13 starts after being acquired in the Roy Oswalt deal, he went at least six innings while allowing two earned runs or fewer. Happ had an exceptional six-start stretch from late August into September: a 1.91 ERA, .218 opponent batting average, and K/BB ratio of nearly 3-to-1. One unique thing Happ did exceptionally well last season was battle after runners got on base – only 17.0 percent of runners to reach base scored against Happ, 7.0 percent better than the league average.